Sometimes, Strength Can Be Simple

Often my first few encounters with people are met with trepidation and fear.  These are people who are injured, and have been for a long time without getting any type of improvement or change in their condition and they are tired of it, or often have just resigned themselves to feeling a certain way for a very long time.

I’m of the opinion that if you do the right things to tissue, it is a living thing and it can change to adapt and get stronger given the right stimulus.  I’ve managed to prove this to myself and my clients over and over again through the years by giving their tissue exactly what it needs – more capability to handle stress under load without overtaxing the nervous system and causing pain, which is more often than not a defense mechanism or warning sign that something isn’t quite right.

My most recent example happened just two weeks ago.  I began working with a woman who has had what was diagnosed as “tennis elbow” (by a sport medicine doctor) over nine months ago and has been living with daily pain since.  She’s been doing physio weekly and has had not one, but two trainers working with her as well.  She was actually referred to me by a colleague in another city after moving to mine.

So I’m doing my assessment and taking a very careful look at her elbow and notice that there seems to be a lot more laxity in the joint than on the opposing side.  Her shoulder, elbow and wrist were also quite weak and unstable (unable to hold force without deviation) on that side.  So as a result I spent a lot of our first full session together increasing her elbows’ ability to hold position, and also did a movement designed to apply force directly through the radioulnar joint into the humerus.  Isometric elbow extension, limited range elbow flexion, and finally a simple direct push isometric into the joint with a lot of force.  Result?  Immediately after a simple 20 second isometric application she stated that it felt “better – strangely better” as she proceeded to fully extend her elbow (which she couldn’t do 2 minutes previous).  As we proceeded with the rest of the movements things continued to improve.

Three days later she said that she had slept through the night previous, something she hadn’t done in months due to pain, and suddenly her elbow was a lot stronger – strong enough to do weighted pulling movements, which is something else she hadn’t done in months.  All from a very simple – but deliberate and intentional – application of force to an area.

Now two weeks later we can do upper body pulling movements with load – something she couldn’t do two weeks ago and was afraid of doing when she walked into my studio.

Here’s the thing – if a wall is falling down, do you let it fall part way, then stop it there and start repairing it?  No.  You shove it back into place and then put a bolt in it so that it doesn’t fall down again.  That’s strength.

So many people have a misconception that strength means that they have to move a boulder or throw something over their head.  That they will get big and huge overnight if they even look at a weight.  To me, strength is the ability of the body to hold onto force through its’ varying joints without causing trauma that causes that tissue to degrade.  If you can move a bit more force through that joint (picture your knee during a knee extension) without the joint being compromised and losing the ability to hold position – that’s strength.  If you can run 500 meters further without causing your legs and back to degrade to the point that you slouch or start striking with the wrong part of your foot – that’s strength.

Stronger tissue also means shorter recovery times, meaning you can either train more or train harder.  Stronger tissue means that simple everyday tasks don’t have to cause you pain due to a joint going way too far out of its’ appropriate range of motion.  The great thing about your body is that if you stimulate it properly with just enough force, it will adapt. Every single time. And, it is so intelligent that it will learn how to deal with that level of force by laying down more tissue in order to deal with the requirements being put upon it.

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The greatest thing about this concept is that you can literally apply it to anyone.  Have an elderly relative who can’t lift a grocery bag?  Find a way that they can lift one that’s half or quarter full, or weighs 3 pounds.  Then, once they can do that, add a pound.  On the flipside of that you might have an athlete who can perform explosive fast movements for 45 seconds, but needs to be able to do it for 60, or maintain strength after being on a basketball court for 35 minutes with little rest.  Find out where their threshold is and take them just a little beyond (if they can handle it at the time) and then the body will do the rest.

And for pete’s sake – if you are dealing with a professional who isn’t working towards resolving the problem and still throwing money at them – stop it.  There’s a thousand practitioners out there in my city alone.  I’m not saying that I have all of the answers, but sometimes what is done to people in the name of “therapy” makes me shake my head.  Here’s a very simple statement: If your practitioner can’t tell you what they are trying to do to make sure your problem resolves and doesn’t happen again – every time – then find someone else who can. 

And the next time you’re in the gym, or on the field, think about what you did last time.  Then do more.

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